Carl Paladino’s Crusade for Free Driving

Last week, we profiled Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s transportation platform, which tended in the direction of airy platitudes. In contrast, his Republican opponent Carl Paladino has probably never been accused of playing things too safe, and on transportation policy, he’s true to form. Paladino’s been blitzing the campaign trail with a no-holds-barred anti-toll, anti-transit message.

Image: Paladino Campaign.
Image: ## Campaign.##

Opposition to paying for road use is one of Paladino’s central political beliefs. In fact, it’s how he got started in politics.

In the gubernatorial race, this has shown up in Paladino’s call to eliminate the $11.00 toll over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (which only applies westbound, and if you’re a Staten Island resident with E-ZPass, is actually $5.48 — not much more than two subway fares). In a September press release, the Paladino campaign wrote: “Tolls collected at the bridge – the only roadway access to the island from the rest of New York City – do not serve the residents but rather go to subsidize public transportation like the New York City subway, which does not extend to Staten Island.” Paladino’s position not only would open up an additional floodgate of drivers, but it also conveniently skips over the nearly one in three Staten Island commuters who do in fact take public transit.

Such a position isn’t surprising, however, given Paladino’s history. The Buffalo real estate developer got his start in politics fighting to eliminate the tolls on I-190. According to Crain’s New York, Paladino got involved in that fight in 2005. He sued the state on the grounds that the tolls couldn’t continue once the bonds on that section of the Thruway had been paid off. The Thruway Authority duly removed the tolls.

Paladino has also voiced his opposition to the tolls across the Tappan Zee Bridge. That bridge is currently due for a multi-billion dollar replacement, which the state has no idea how to fund.

Other MTA revenue streams have come in for attacks just as blistering as the bombs Paladino lobbed at the Verrazano tolls. In a speech to a business forum last Tuesday, Paladino lit into Cuomo for supporting the payroll mobility tax. “Did you know if we repeal this onerous tax, taxpayers would save one-and-a-half billion dollars every year?” he asked. He argued that suburban taxpayers don’t benefit from the tax and claimed he could make up for its revenues by “cleaning up the waste, fraud and abuse at the MTA to assure taxpayer money is not flushed down the MTA toilet like it is today.”

And on his website, Paladino promises to slash the state gas tax. The website argues that the tax hurts not only drivers, but even those who walk to work, by raising the cost of transporting goods and hurting tourism. Paladino’s tax and toll policies would mean far less revenue for transportation than today, with incentives shifted wildly towards more driving.

Paladino also has staked out ground as a leading MTA-basher. At the same business forum speech, Paladino announced that if elected he would “take the MTA apart piece by piece.” He promised not only to replace the authority’s entire management, but also to eliminate the authority itself, folding it into the state Department of Transportation, where it would be “back under the control of the people.” Of course, the governor already appoints the head of the MTA, the legislature controls many of its revenue streams, and the state has considerable oversight powers, including control of the MTA’s capital plan.

While Paladino doesn’t seem to think that transit service is a public good worth supporting collectively, he doesn’t feel that way about automobile infrastructure. In 2000, Paladino proposed that the state government tear down its Buffalo office building and replace it with a 1,500 space parking garage. “It’s time we started looking at parking as a public service,” he said, according to a Michael Daly column in the Daily News.

Paladino does not appear to have public positions on other important transportation issues facing the state, such as smart growth or bike and pedestrian safety. We have a request in with the Paladino campaign for more information on his transportation platform and have yet to hear back.